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Lynne Plambeck: World Water Day in Santa Clarita

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: March 24, 2010 6:31 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2010 4:55 a.m.
In Santa Clarita, we tend to focus on water supply. Will there be enough water for the next huge housing development approved by the city or county? Will all the existing residents be subjected to higher rates and draconian conservation requirements so developers can continue to build thousands of new units in outlying areas?

Most of the rest of the world, and some of us here in Santa Clarita, also worry about whether our water is safe to drink.

Reports released on Monday by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations make it clear that water quality may be the new limit on water, looming just over the horizon. For many communities worldwide, it is already a crisis.

While our local water agencies celebrated World Water Day by basically once again proclaiming in The Signal on Monday that we have no problem (“CLWA’s water cleanup”), other places from Los Angeles to Zambia held events to make the public aware of intensifying issues surrounding water quality and its effect on supply.

In the SCV, a Monday letter to the editor signed by local water managers once again claimed that the facilities to clean up the polluted water from the Whittaker-Bermite site will be functioning “next month” to return closed wells to service.

This has certainly become a tired mantra. Didn’t they say in 2004 that these wells would be pumping water again “next” year in 2005, a date that has consistently moved into the future with every failed deadline?

Didn’t they just say last October in a letter to the county that these wells would be returned to service in November last year? Now it will be “next” month in April, some five years after they began making such statements.

Wouldn’t it be more honest to leave this water off availability reports until it is really available?

Now it appears from the EPA’s news release, issued the same day, that the agency will be setting new limits for known cancer-causing chemicals such as trichloroethelyne. This pollutant is present in water samples from local monitoring wells, along with NDMA and other volatile organic compounds known to be cancer causing.

Will the new cleanup facilities remove these chemicals as well as the ammonium perchlorate for which they were designed?
A U.N. report, released Monday to coincide with World Water Day, said an estimated 2 billion tons of wastewater, including fertilizer run-off, sewage and industrial waste, is being discharged daily.

This wastewater is responsible for the spread of disease and damage to the environment.

“Dead zones” (areas too low in oxygen content for sea life to survive) caused by industrial-waste pollution are still spreading worldwide. Our own Santa Clara River suffers from many kinds of waste pollution, from high salt discharges that harm downstream farming to agricultural runoff that may kill or deform local wildlife.

The U.N. report went on to state that more than half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, and more people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war.

Can we avoid the problem by drinking bottled water? The expensive designer water that is consumed in the U.S. is not an option for most of the world. It should not be an option for us, either.  

The U.N. report emphasizes that it takes 3 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water, and that bottled water in the U.S. requires the consumption of some 17 million barrels of oil yearly. That’s not to mention the trash problem that mountains of discarded bottles are creating everywhere.

Also, bottled water is not subjected to the rigorous testing required of public water systems. Labels do not even require disclosure of where the water was actually pumped. Some bottlers just filter tap water.

How can we best protect our own water sources? By thinking globally and acting locally. We see the problems created worldwide by mistreating river systems and not enforcing environmental laws meant to protect health.  

In Santa Clarita, much of our drinking water comes from the Santa Clara River. So here, acquisition of the river floodplain and protection of river vegetation so that urban runoff is naturally filtered before it enters the river is one way to protect our water supply.

Participation in public meetings to urge our officials to protect the river and our water supply is another action we can each take.

Let’s continue to celebrate World Water Day by being aware of this precious resource and how much we depend on it.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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